Generations of erudite scholars have researched the Tagores of Jorasanko, undeniably the Renaissance family of Bengal, a family whose role in ushering in the modern era in Bengal cannot be challenged by even the most diehard of critics.
I am no historian.
Hence it’s with nervous trepidation that I write this post. If there are errors in facts or hypotheses I am more than happy to stand corrected.
The Tagores can proudly claim to have been the harbingers of modern Bengali cuisine, be it in allowing European cooking techniques to be experimented with in their hallowed kitchens or opening their doors for august Awadhi influences to waft in.
And to say they reveled in experimenting with food is an understatement. Especially when it came to classics. Quintessentially Bengali classics, centuries old, held in deferential reverence. The Tagores took these venerable classics and tweaked them unabashedly, in most instances, simply dethroning the primary ingredient, hitherto the undisputed hero of the delicacy, and promoting a new protagonist instead.
Consider this. Shorshe Maach.
Synonymous with Bengali cuisine.
Rohu or Katla slathered generously in mustard paste spiked with mean chillies. Drizzled with mustard oil for that extra zing.
The Tagores unhesitatingly replaced the fish with mutton.
And was conceptualized Shorshe Mangsho.
Another example. Chingri Maacher Malaikari.
Prawns stewed in coconut milk. Perfumed with whole spices.
The Tagores were intrepid, prawns gave way to the humble bottlegourd in their kitchen.
And thus was born Lau er Malaikari.
Yet another. The humble doibora or dahivada.
Urad dal fritters in sweet-sour yoghurt perfumed with a motley of spices.
In the kitchen of the Tagores, lamb mince ousted the lentils.
And came into being the Keemar Doibora.
And a final one before I wind up and head back to my kitchen.
Take Dhokar Dalna.
Fried lentil dumplings in a fragrant tomato curry.
The Tagores manoeuvre for the lentils to get superceded by green peas.
And Koraishutir Dhokar Dalna is conceived.
And that’s I cook this listless morning.
Koraishutir Dhokar Dalna. Green peas and chana dal dumplings. In a delicately flavored tomato curry, perfumed with whole spices and spiked with ginger. A hint of cumin. A subtlety of ground coriander.